NASA’s Kids’ Club

STEM education—focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math—has received a lot of attention in recent years. Part of the reason for that is STEM jobs are experiencing significant growth and are expected to continue to do so, but the number of STEM workers our education system is producing is not keeping up with that growth, especially among women and minorities.

To help get young students excited about STEM fields, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had created NASA Kids’ Club, a collection on online games and activities that provide a safe place for children to play and explore as they learn about NASA and its missions.

NASA and the exploration of space are naturals for engaging children in STEM. Indeed, many current scientists and engineers attribute their interest in their fields to the inspiration provided by the Apollo moon missions.

The games and activities included at NASA’s Kids’ Club align with the Illinois Learning Standards for Science, which are based on the Next Generation Science Standards. The parent information page for NASA’s Kids’ Club shares which activities align with which grades and standards. And while the activities align with Kindergarten through fourth grade standards, any pre-K or elementary aged student can enjoy the activities.

Essence of ESSA: Growth versus Proficiency

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member. The coalition helps families and communities understand how our education system is changing to provide the children of Illinois the best education possible. The article details how schools in Illinois are changing instruction as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shifts the focus on student achievement from proficiency to growth. The coalition has also created a short 99-second video about the difference between growth and proficiency.

Academic Progress at Zion School Shows Promise of New System

Third and 4th graders at Beulah Park Elementary School in Zion are gaining crucial skills as they make inferences while reading books as varied as Junie B. Jones and a biography of 19th century scientist Mary Anning. Now that progress will be recognized in the way Illinois evaluates its schools.

Illinois’ plan as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, provides a system for rating Illinois schools and for providing struggling schools with additional help. Illinois’ ESSA plan, developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, emphasizes academic growth in rating schools. Parents use the ratings to better understand their child’s school—or where to send their child to school—and the state uses the ratings to determine which schools will get additional assistance. The test scores of 4th graders improved by 17.5% last year, one of the largest improvements of any school in Illinois.

“It’s about closing the academic achievement gap, and growth really matters for that,” said Dr. Keely Roberts, Superintendent for Zion School District 6.

Lynn Butera (left), principal of Beulah Park Elementary School and Dr. Keely Roberts (right), Superintendent of Zion Elementary School District

No Child Left Behind emphasized academic proficiency, test scores from a single moment in time, rather than academic growth. Proficiency often correlates with a student’s race, income level or disability status and doesn’t provide a sense of a school’s academic progress. Schools have more control over academic growth. The vast majority of students at Beulah Park are minority and low-income, and 22% of students meet or exceed PARCC standards in 4th grade English language arts. ESSA will still take into account proficiency, which is particularly critical in the upper grades as it relates to college admission.

“We care about kids surviving in the world and getting into schools like U of I,” Roberts said. “The bar shouldn’t be lower for proficiency because that’s limiting to our children.”

A recent reading exercise in Valencia Samuel’s 4th grade class compared the biography of a 19th century scientist, Mary Anning, a famous fossil collector, with a modern story about saving porpoises. The concept of compare and contrast was reinforced in the classroom and in smaller sessions with individual students. Understanding the progress students are making helps the school make informed decisions about staffing individualized support sessions and the allocation of time during the school day.

“We look at every child and set goals,” said Lynn Butera, Principal at Beulah Park for the past 15 years. “We’re using data from our [assessment] scores and mastering skills and continuously growing to be more proficient.”

ESSA will provide a more nuanced picture of Illinois’ education system, funding for initiatives such as professional development of teachers and an updated plan for supporting schools. Its true promise is in the end goal of lifting achievement and helping prepare all students for college, career and a healthy life.

“Growth is what it’s all about,” said Julie Dobnikar, a 3rd grade teacher at Beulah Park for 16 years. “It’s about knowing when I have made a difference.”

The mission of the Real Learning for Real Life coalition is to close achievement gaps and prepare the whole student for college, career, and life after high school. In order to achieve this mission, we are working toward improving understanding of ESSA. Click here to receive email updates from Real Learning for Real Life.

Helping Your Child with Math Homework

Math homework has been a challenge for families at least since the “New Math” curriculum was introduced in the 1970s. With math standards and curriculum changing in recent years, many parents are discovering that how they learned to do math is no longer how it is being taught. That frustration helped one Ohio father’s Facebook post go viral.

Recently, Chicago Parent shared three key pieces of advice to help parents help their child with math homework. These are:

  • Stop Teaching the Tricks: Teaching math has changed from following rules and algorithms to building an understanding mathematical concepts and reasoning. Teaching the “trick” that you were taught can undermine building that math foundation. Instead, have your child teach you how they were taught to solve the problem.
  • Stop Worrying About It Being Correct: Math homework is no longer just about applying the rules that were taught that day in class to several additional problems to learn the process by rote repetition. Homework now helps teachers understand what their students know and where they are struggling. Shift the homework focus from getting the right answer to working hard to solve problems. Mistakes and failures are an important part of building a growth mindset.
  • Stop the Negative Math Talk: Children look up to parents for a lot longer than their parents think they do. When you talk about being bad at math, your goal may be to create sympathy with your child and their struggles with math, but the message is that not everyone can do math, and that can make math an even bigger challenge for them in the future. Focus instead on how math, like anything that you are just starting out to learn, can be difficult, but that the harder and longer they work at math, the better and easier it will become.

Check out the full article for more information on helping your child with their math homework in a productive manner. Illinois PTA also has several additional articles on families and math here on One Voice Illinois:

New Hour of Code Activity from National PTA & ThinkFun

Computer Science Education Week begins December 4th, and with it comes the Hour of Code program that Illinois PTA has covered before. We’ve also covered the importance of computer science education and computational thinking for students.

This year, as part of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative, program partner ThinkFun has created an Hour of Code activity called Robot Repair. The activity uses fun puzzle solving to teach Boolean logic, a type of algebra that uses only TRUE and FALSE (or 1 and 0 in computers).

The activity has been approved as an official Hour of Code program and is available directly from the link above or through the activities list at Hour of Code. It can be done at home, or as part of a PTA Hour of Code program along with other exercises. If your PTA is considering an Hour of Code event, keep in mind that there are many activities available from the Hour of Code site that do not require an internet connection or even a computer or other device.